Börje the Reading Assistance Dog just puts his head on one side and does not carp or criticise
Espoo’s Leppävaara library has a therapy dog that listens to children, helping them to improve their reading skills
By Paula Paukku in Espoo
”Come on over here and read to Börje”, says cheery librarian Raisa Alameri, who acts as a reading-dog hostess.
Two girls pass Alameri paintings addressed to Börje, while petting the eight-month-old Maltese affectionately.
One of the paintings depicts a girl and a dog, and the text above says ”Erika och Börje”.
Another painting carries a beautifully decorated message in Finnish: ”Hi Börje, it was nice meeting you. You are really cute. Bye.”
The reading education assistance dog Börje started its work at the Sello public library in Espoo’s district of Leppävaara at the beginning of June.
Born in Beverly Hills, California, Börje has a very clear job description: to listen to children, helping them to improve their literacy skills.
Börje listens to six- to eight-year-old children who are learning how to read as well as to children, adolescents, and even adults who are struggling with their reading skills.
”Börje does not monitor, correct, criticise, or say drily that 'it went all right'”, lists Alameri.
Raisa Alameri works as a special librarian and as a READ hostess, and she holds the firm belief that a dog like Börje is a much better listener than parents, teachers, and classmates.
When reading to a therapy dog, children’s self-esteem improves.
Börje’s customers are mostly children who are struggling to read, but as a surprise to Alameri, even adults venture up to read to a dog.
”Adults can admit to a dog that they are only semi-literate, but not to any human being. In modern society, it is assumed that everyone reads well”, Alameri notes.
Picture books are popular, but for example, one customer comes to read to Börje from Good Wives, the second part of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
”The customer who read Alcott’s book to Börje has developed considerably as a reader. Another younger customer of Börje also rediscovered her enthusiasm for reading after years at school, even though she found it hard to understand at first why she should read to a dog”, Alameri explains.
Alameri herself is present in order to secure that the situation is peaceful.
She does not participate in Börje and the reader’s session in any other way.
Alameri is training young Börje to become a Reading Education Assistance Dog according to an official US R.E.A.D. programme, hoping that Börje could be a certified therapy dog by Christmas.
BACKGROUND: Reading Education Assistance Dogs are trained in the USA
Reading Education Assistance Dogs are particularly common in US libraries and schools.
The so-called R.E.A.D. dogs are trained to listen to children and adults reading with the help of a 10-step programme.
The object of the exercise
is to help children and adults struggling to read to overcome their problems.
Dogs are regarded as ideal reading companions, as they can calm the nervous reader, lowering his or her blood pressure.
In the United States, reading assistance dogs are registered therapy animals, and in many states they have the status of guide dogs or assistance dogs.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 16.6.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finns overwhelming EU champions in literacy among 15-year-olds (2.2.2011)
Therapy Animals.org: R.E.A.D.
The Guardian: The dogs who listen to children reading, 28.2.2011
PAULA PAUKKU / Helsingin Sanomat